This week alone the Madagascar-born singer’s new recording Zebu Nation has been featured both on The Story with Dick Gordon, and as Thursday’s “Global Hit” on the BBC’s The World. I’ve been curious which of the CD’s catchy, driving tracks are the ones being picked up for radio airplay. I wasn’t too surprised to learn yesterday that several are.
The album was inspired by a return visit to to Madagascar, home of towering baobab trees and herds of zebu, a native hump-backed cattle population. Razia still has family there, though she moved away when she was still pre-teen. On the most recent visit she was struck by the scope and advanced severity of deforestation on the island, a result of decades of ungoverned tavy, or ‘slash and burn’ agricultural practices. In the span from 1950 to 1985 alone, one half of Madagascar’s rainforests vanished.
In contrast to the bleak situation it illustrates, the music of Zebu Nation is a warm, inviting blend that reminds the listener at every turn this is music sprung organically from the tropical sunshine of the Indian Ocean. It’s made with long, tubular bamboo zithers, wooden flutes, and a variety of stringed instruments not unlike the koras and ngoni of West Africa. Song after song, the effect of these unique voices can be both uplifting and haunting. Though beautiful, it’s a little like listening to ghosts – it’s hard enjoy the music without thinking about the native wooden instruments of Madagascar being just one more of the many potential casualties of rainforest destruction if the situation doesn’t improve.
Razia’s website is a companion artistic effort, a visual extension of the passion and very personal commitment she has to this music, and to the land itself. (Ten percent of all Zebu Nation sales go to benefit tree planting projects in Madagascar.)